- The article underlines the dangers posed by disinformation campaigns in the wake of recent incidents in Tamil Nadu which could threaten the societal trust and democracy in India.
- A number of social media posts claiming that “Bihari migrant labourers” were attacked in Tamil Nadu recently created panic in both the States.
- The video clips of migrant workers leaving Tamil Nadu for Holi holidays and festivities began to be shared to say that there was an exodus from the State because of incidents of violence.
- To nurture this narrative, stray news stories about the death of a migrant worker were seeded online in order to build a wider campaign that there was targeted violence in Tamil Nadu against North Indians.
- The disinformation campaigns could be used to manipulate social and political outcomes, as a false narrative about the safety of migrant workers in TN shows.
- About: It is referred to as those news stories that are false, fabricated, with no verifiable facts, sources or quotes.
- It is intentionally written in order to gain financially or politically through sensationalist, exaggerated, or false headlines for capturing the attention of the people.
- Types: Satire or parody (no intention to cause harm), misleading content, imposter content, fabricated/false/manipulated content, etc.
Negative Implications of Disinformation Campaigns
- The disinformation campaigns have the potential to unfairly manipulate social and political outcomes.
- It could also incite communal disharmony between the groups belonging to different caste, creed, religion or regions.
- It also serves as an attempt to sway votes during elections, when voters rely on information through social media more than any other source.
What are the Measures taken Globally to Counter Disinformation Campaigns?
- The European Union (EU) has put out the Code of Practice on Disinformation 2022. Few strengthened initiatives of the EU Code are as follows:
- Transparency in political advertising, empowerment of fact-checkers and researchers, tools to flag disinformation, and measures to reduce manipulative behaviour.
- The United Kingdom has proposed enacting an Online Safety Bill which will expect social media platforms (intermediaries) to actively monitor problematic content.
- Though the U.K. Bill is under review by a committee in the House of Lords, there are already calls from companies, including WhatsApp and Signal, to scrap the legislation in the interest of privacy.
- During the progress of the U.K. Bill, the provisions to monitor “legal but harmful” content have already been replaced with greater onus on social media platforms to enforce their terms and conditions in accordance with their policies.
How India Seeks to Limit Disinformation Campaigns?
- There has been little discussion on the menace and the extent of disinformation in India.
- The Union of India has only employed knee-jerk measures such as Internet shutdowns across jurisdictions.
- This approach disregards the doctrine of proportionality and seems over-simplistic, non-transparent and autocratic.
- The Union government has also granted itself greater powers to strike down any content that is found to be unpalatable.
- For instance, under Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000, the Union Government can block access to any information online that it considers necessary in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state or public order.
- More recently, the Union brought out the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 to regulate content by online publishers, news and social media intermediaries.
- The recent draft amendments to these IT Rules, 2021, empower the Press Information Bureau (PIB), to flag inaccurate and fake news related to government bodies on social media platforms.
- The amendments are being criticised as measure to curb criticism against the Union Government than about blocking fake news as such.
- A Fact Check Unit under the Press Information Bureau is also being set up to curb the dissemination of wrong information through social media platforms.
- It also takes cognizance of fake news both suo motu and by way of queries sent by citizens on its portal or through e-mail and Whatsapp.
- The MeitY’s Information Security Education and Awareness (ISEA) program creates awareness among users highlighting the importance of following the ethics while using internet and advising them not to share rumours/fake news.
- The Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC) also admits complaints against TV broadcasters for objectionable TV content and fake news.
Legislation to curb Fake News in India
- The IT Act, 2008: The offence related to electronic communication shall be punished under section 66 D of IT Act.
- The Disaster Management Act, 2005: Whoever makes/circulates a false alarm/warning as to disaster/its severity/magnitude, leading to panic shall be punished under the DM Act.
- The Indian Penal Code, 1860: Fake news creating false alarm in public, fake news creating riots and information causing defamation shall be punished under different sections of the IPC.
Recent Supreme Court Judgements Related to Fake News
- Alakh Alok Srivastava vs Union of India (2020): The SC in this case dealt with a PIL on the plight of migrant workers walking back home during first lockdown.
- Such instances illustrate the real dangers to public order as a result of the dissemination of fake news.
- Tehseen S. Poonawalla vs Union of India (2018): The apex court in this case held that it is the duty of the Union and State governments to take steps to curb dissemination of “irresponsible and explosive messages having content which is likely to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind.
Counter-steps by TN Govt to Contain the Spread of Fake News
- The TN police put out a specific clarification that the video clips being circulated were both false and mischievous.
- The TN CM also assured the CM of Bihar that there was adequate protection for migrant workers in TN.
- Helplines were also set up by the TN government at the district level, particularly in the areas with a concentration of migrant workers.
- Higher TN officials also interacted with migrant workers, reassuring them about their safety.
- A high-level government delegation from Bihar also visited TN and confirmed first hand that there was no truth to the rumours about migrant workers being targeted in the State.
- A better and more effective approach to limit disinformation is to increase media and digital literacy in India.
- The GoI could also partner with local news groups to further educate citizens on how to identify real news from fake news.
- It could also be coupled with quick prosecution of the individuals carrying out disinformation campaigns.
- The state police machinery should be strengthened to catch anyone responsible for spreading fake messages.
- India should also impose hefty fines similar to Germany on social media companies if they constantly fail to remove illegal content from their platforms.
- Print and Electronic media should also have an internal ombudsman to verify incidents, facts, and figures.